Labor Day, 2017

Here’s a thoughtful commentary about our latest U.S. holiday. The author, George Jehn, is a retired airline pilot, former high-level union official at Eastern Airlines, author and whistleblower. He pauses a busy life each Fall and shares his assessment of how we are doing, on issues related to labor and the U.S. economy. His views are framed by his experiences in the aviation industry.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

People do not know the history behind this holiday, such as the deadly use of federal troops to break the 1894 Pullman Strike. People also tend not to know the many parallels between the extensive regulatory capture of FAA (by the airlines and other industry players) and the regulatory capture of the nascent ICC in the 1890s. Click here to view some documents about Richard Olney, and to learn more about how much 2017 is just like 1894.

(click on image to view source, at Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, University of Minnesota)

On a lighter note, here’s a no-holds-barred take by Jimmy Dore, a comedian who has become one of the leading online voices for those who feel our political and economic systems must be reformed. In this video, he dissects a Walmart employee orientation video that is extremely anti-union.

Live Today: Yet Another Dog-and-Pony Show

Bill Shuster is at it again: trying to ramrod the massive giveaway of the U.S. ATC system to private interests, dominated by the four remaining major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United). Today’s dog-and pony show includes Paul Rinaldi, president of the controllers’ union NATCA. Why would NATCA want privatization? Primarily for selfish money reasons. ATC has a mandatory retirement age of 56, and the lifting of this age-limit will greatly enhance the already quite substantial retirement pensions for those like Rinaldi who are imminently eligible to retire. The new ‘ATC Inc.’ would also have plenty of freedom to payback Rinaldi and other retiring controllers, who will be able to supplement fat federal pensions (those will be sustained, after all) with very rich consulting work. And where will all the money come from to do this? You, and me. Air travelers will still pay large fees and taxes, which will be collected as if they are a federal tax, but will be spent by a private entity, controlled by the airlines.

FAA and their Av-Gov Complex partners will call this ‘collaboration’; rational people will shake their heads and say, No, this is crony capitalism. On steroids.”

Here is a link to the livestream, which supposedly can also be used to watch the video later, starting at 10AM EDT: https://youtu.be/h6XTbApeO-M

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Wall Street Journal Passing On FAA’s ‘Fake News’ About NextGen

FAA and other industry players have been using some incredibly phony sales pitches for well over a decade now, in their coordinated effort to sell NextGen as ‘transformational’. One of those false pitch points is the claim that NextGen will do away with commercial flights flying zig-zag routes across the nation, from one electronic navaid to the next. Readers are led to believe that today’s air navigation is constrained by these locations, and a lot of people get fooled, simply because the vast majority of us are not trained and employed in a way that would cause us to know better. Well, today’s air navigation is NOT constrained that way, and frankly has not been so constrained for many decades. Even as early as the 1970s, entire airline fleets were configured for direct navigation using inertial navigation systems, followed by many new and improved systems including Omega, Loran, GPS, etc.

It’s a fact, and an embarrassment on FAA, that for each of the airspace redesigns in recent years, FAA and contractors have created thousands of pages of slick documentation… and every documentation package, for each airspace redesign, has at least one copy of this image (or a close variation):

The graphic clearly implies that ‘current’ navigation is via zigzags over navaids. All you have to do is study actual flight routes, at a website like Flightaware. Everyday, multiple websites upload data for tens of thousands of U.S. commercial flights; for each of those days, you could spend a week or longer reviewing every individual flight history, and chances are you would NOT find even one flight wasting time and energy on navaid-to-navaid zigzags.

So, it looks like all that propaganda is now taking a big victim: even the esteemed Wall Street Journal now believes we need NextGen to advance us past airplanes that ‘bounce from one radio point to the next…’!

Check out their March 22nd opinion piece, archived below with aiR footnotes added:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.


See also:

With FAA, ‘Collaboration’ is Just a Slick Euphemism for ‘Propaganda Campaign’

Time and again this year, the mainstream media has been shown to be fully collaborating with those they report on, thus effectively serving not as objective journalists but as servant propaganda agents. We’ve seen this in politics (yes, 2016 has been a big and very troubling year!), and we’ve seen it in the lobbying efforts of certain industries, aviation included.

The key to these propaganda campaigns is to ALWAYS frame the message (using carefully selected keywords), and coordinate the delivery of information. In the context of our U.S. Congress, in its present and ongoing state of oligarchy-serving dysfunction, it is critical that opposition voices are tamped down; that is, it would be problematic if any of the aviation stakeholders spoke up against the objective. So, within the group of stakeholders/players who are coordinating the propaganda campaign, each must find an aspect of the program that serves their own narrow interests, and accept that personal benefit as sufficient for their agreement to remain quiet about aspects they dislike. This is precisely what has evolved with NextGen and ATC Privatization; this is how we end up with the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, doing a reversal this year and now declaring that union leaders are onboard with both proposals.

The current propaganda campaign for the U.S. aviation system focuses on two things:

  1. ATC privatization – the ‘real goal’ is to further insulate this safety/regulatory function from accountability and transparency, making it that much harder for impacted citizens to resolve aviation-related problems. Many in industry like this idea, for obvious reasons (it creates ‘business opportunities’); top officials at NATCA see a chance to remove controllers from federal salary caps and the age-56 mandatory retirement, so thousands of the most senior controllers today would earn more than $180,000 per year (and build much larger retirement pensions).
  2. NextGen investment – as happens with most matured agencies, there is a constant need to project a message that helps the agency mission appear relevant and worthy of further funding. So, every few years, FAA dreams up a way to spend money, coordinates with ‘stakeholders’ to ensure their non-opposition, then carefully maneuvers Congress, seeking billions for a new so-called ‘transformative’ program. It is all smoke-and-mirrors and pork, benefitting not just industry players but also FAA officials who retire, collect pensions, and become consultants and lobbyists for those same industry players.

Any effective propaganda campaign requires consistent and frequent restatement of key bits of disinformation. I.e., if you repeat a lie long enough, it effectively becomes fact. This truism is understood and abused by both major political parties in the U.S., just as it is understood and abused by accountability-averse agencies, FAA included. So, what are the key bits of disinformation FAA is using…?

  1. use the words ‘increasingly congested’ … even when you know it is just a bald-faced lie (see the data analysis within the Post, The Incredible Shrinking NAS … that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About; on average, for the 504 U.S. airports with control civilian control towers, annual operations are now down 45% from the peak years at each airport. DOWN 45% … but does the mainstream media tell us this statistic?
  2. distract the citizens with snazzy graphics and jargon that pretends to be selling something new and incredible [even when the actual change is minimal to none]
  3. tack on the latest buzzwords, such as ‘transformative’, ‘collaborative’, and of course ‘NextGen’.
  4. make sure it appears that the message is organic, authentic, and sourced NOT in the agency (FAA) but in the real world (the airlines, the airline lobby, the unions, the manufacturers). [again, this is just illusion… there is a huge amount of coordination going on behind the scenes, with FAA and the other parties very carefully designing the campaign, and orchestrating who says what and when]

Here’s a recent example: a news article with warm and fuzzy airport growth hopes at the St. Paul Downtown Airport [KSTP], near Minneapolis. This is an airport catering primarily to elite personal and business travel, such as using charter bizjets. The airport management expects roughly a hundred elite sport fans to use KSTP in early 2018, for their flight to watch the Super Bowl. The article more than implies that the airport is a money-generator. But, as shown in this aiREFORM analysis, and as is so typical across the nation, annual operations at this airport peaked in 1990 and have since declined 70%. The federal monies spent there are essentially maintaining infrastructure that is increasingly underused.

So, when you read articles such as this, be sure to consider the long history of spin and propaganda by FAA and other Av/Gov Complex players.

Ten Years Later: FAA’s Pattern of Concealment After the Comair 5191 Crash

Among the greatest lessons learned from this year’s democratic party primary debacle was the complicity of the mainstream media in aiding corrupt party officials. Those leaked DNC Emails – nearly 20,000 emails total! – showed an incredible level of collusion between DNC officials (unapologetically hell-bent on defeating Bernie Sanders and nominating Hillary Clinton) and the mainstream media players (also corrupted, hell-bent in their lust for campaign advertising dollars).

Just to be clear, this was NOT a lesson about solely the democratic party; no, this was a lesson about the troubling reality of U.S. politics today… that We The People are being manipulated by the two dominant parties, using tools of propaganda. This is being called ‘engineered consent’ and, yes, this manipulation is being done by both oppressing political parties. In the process, the reigning duopoly that serves up ‘lesser-of-two-evil’ choices each cycle, has all but destroyed our so-called Democracy.

One critical tool of this manipulation is in the repetitive framing and reframing of so-called facts to crystallize acceptance of a historical perspective that fits the needs of the established political powers. We see this in politics, and we see it outside politics in retrospective news stories, for example. One of those retrospectives just happened again: the ten year anniversary of the horrific crash in Lexington, of Comair 5191. Here is a PDF copy:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded; or click here to view original source article.

If you read the article and research other U.S. aviation disasters, a clear pattern emerges: FAA’s response consistently is to hide disclosable information, obscure employee/management accountability, obstruct any proposal that would cost money, and delay-delay-delay on what few reforms are eventually emplaced. See for example the 10-year restrospective on the ValuJet Everglades crash in 1996, opined by FAA Whistleblower Gabe Bruno.

A few analysis points about the Comair/Lexington accident:

  1. FAA’s failures surrounding the Lexington crash were many. Not just the chain of seemingly tiny failures that led to the fatalities, but also the many, MANY efforts since to distort facts and reject long overdue safety and culture reforms.
  2. the principle cause of this accident was fatigue, for both the flight crew and the air traffic controller. This was perhaps the most important fact revealed by the extensive NTSB investigation. Cost-cutting by both the airlines and the FAA contributed to a combination of fatigued personnel that led to a chain-reaction of inattention, costing 49 lives.
  3. this accident should never have happened. The same combination of fatigue (in both the control tower and on the flight deck) had occurred over and over again, and continues to occur even today. BUT, the fact that aviation professionals can and will become bored/inattentive/fatigued is a given, and a key part of why so many redundancies are built into the aviation safety system. When simple redundancies – like, re-scanning the runway – are skipped, the system can and will break down.
  4. the controller, Chris Damron, simply failed to look out the window, not even once during the critical 2-minutes between when he issued a takeoff clearance and when he called out the emergency crews, nearly 45-seconds AFTER the crashed jet exploded in flames.
  5. just one look, during the critical 50-second window prior to start of takeoff (the time it took to move forward, turn onto and line up on the runway, finish the checklist and open the throttles), would have produced a quick transmission, cancelling the takeoff clearance.
  6. the transcript at the back of the 174-page NTSB investigative report shows the abrupt end of audio and data recording a half-second after the last audible exclamation by the pilots; thus, it appears that the explosion happened immediately, yet the controller did not make the crash phone call until another 44-seconds passed. It was a quiet Sunday morning, and there were no other airplanes. When he did make the call, his voice was markedly different, with a clear panic (the call was initiated at time 6:28 in the Crash Phone ATC recording, and the airport emergency crews picked up the call almost immediately).
  7. was the controller inattentive? Absolutely. He did not actually watch what played out, or he would have spoken up. He was either focused on nothing at all – resting while on position – or focused on another activity (distracted).
  8. was he possibly resting on position? Yes, quite possibly. It was the end of his workweek and the final hour of an overnight shift, so he was certainly tired. When fatigued while on position, nearly all seasoned FAA controllers do this: they physically rest, even shutting their eyes, while vigilantly listening to audible cues such as the power-up sequence. In this situation, with no other traffic, fatigued controllers are conditioned to apply an internal timer, reflexively waiting another half-minute or so after the last audible jet-noise cue, to then perform the next task for that flight – establishing radar contact on the digital radar display. While waiting, a common physical posture would have him reclined in his controller chair, eyes shut, but otherwise attentive and listening, much like a reliable watchdog. This is a strategy of fatigue management; it is practiced by both controllers and pilots. The pattern is repeated ad nauseum; it commonly creates a workplace boredom that can potentially become a lethal complacency, as happened at Lexington.
  9. how might he have been distracted? Three possibilities: he may have been doing other controller duties, he may have been doing administrative duties, or he may have been distracted with non-ATC activities.
    1. controller duties? not possible. He had no other controller duties to perform, since all his other traffic was gone.
    2. administrative duties? not plausible. The only excuse offered to investigators comes nowhere close to explaining nearly two minutes of inattention. The only cited administrative task was counting fourteen (14) 1″ by 8″ computer-printed paper strips, representing the entirety of his work the previous six hours. Any truthful controller will note this task I a quick finger-shuffling and recording a half dozen figures, thus would require less than 10-seconds. Any competent controller would perform this task quickly, only when traffic allowed, and then immediately scan the runway and airspace.
    3. non-ATC activities? very possible, and indeed likely, if he was not resting on position. He may have been reading, watching a movie or a TV show, playing a game on his laptop, online and surfing the internet, or texting with his cellphone device. In my FAA ATC career, I saw all of these activities routinely happening, and all were accepted by most on-duty supervisors as helpful strategies to manage fatigue.
  10. was the controller’s fatigue excessive and noticeable on the audio? No. Listen to the official Tower ATC recording and, frankly, Mr. Damron sounds professional, alert, and competent. His speech is quick and focused; he is clearly doing tasks that have been done many times before. He efficiently handles a departure push, with three flights to hubs at Chicago, DFW and Atlanta. There is no slurring and no hesitation. Based on this, his momentary inattention would logically happen ONLY if he was distracted into another activity such as using a digital device.
  11. were there larger national-level issues between FAA and NATCA? Absolutely. At the time this happened, controller morale was extremely low and FAA management was imposing draconian work rules onto all air traffic controllers. It was nearly three years later that a mediation panel ordered FAA management to abandon these imposed work rules (aka ‘The WhiteBook’).
  12. would a second controller have helped? Probably not. A few years after Lexington, in 2013, a fatigued controller lost two fatigued pilots when a UPS flight crashed at 4:49am on approach at Birmingham [KBHM]. One of his first actions was to use the tower phone system to call the other controller back to the tower. On overnight shifts, as another fatigue-management strategy, it is very common for paired controllers to alternate; one controller works the combined positions (which is generally easy, since traffic levels are very low), while the other controller can relax, catch a nap, or stay alert with other non-ATC activities (internet, DVD movies, music, studying, etc.)
  13. caused a near-midair collision in March 1989

    The TV set at another FAA tower, that caused a near-midair when a controller became distracted watching the NCAA basketball playoffs on a sunny Saturday in March.

    what does the controller probably want/need to say? As a retired ATC whistleblower, I spent decades working inside the ATC culture. I do know that concealment of facts is a big part of that culture. I also know that concealment is very destructive to those stuck concealing. My first whistleblowing was about a TV set at my first ATC tower, that was connected to a near-midair collision; I spoke up and endured retaliation, and was eventually fired 6-months prior to turning age-50, to force me to voluntarily retire at earliest eligibility. My gut-sense is that when the investigation started, Mr. Damron wanted to tell the whole story and was probably ready to talk, but was shut down. He would have had both FAA management and the union (NATCA) leadership scaring him into silence, with ample help from the attorneys brought in from the start. It is chilling to imagine his having to live today with the knowledge of what really happened, yet not be allowed to talk about it.]

  14. the controller’s identity was protected for four months, even though the identity had to be revealed eventually. A basic purpose of the NTSB investigative process is to give the public some transparency on transportation safety issues. FAA’s initial opacity was a classic knee-jerk reaction: acting from bureaucratic fear, protecting culturally entrenched failures from becoming exposed, and hoping to salvage what they could by over-controlling the flow of information.
  15. an initial effort was made to pin the blame on the Lexington tower manager, Duff Ortman. This failed when emails soon emerged, showing how Mr. Ortman was rebuffed in his many efforts to secure resources needed to cover the staffing: either two additional controllers, or an increase in allowed overtime funding.  The emails included comments by Eastern Terminal Services Director John McCartney, attempting to brand Mr. Ortman as a ‘renegade’.
  16. TVs, DVD movies, and other workplace distractions have been documented elsewhere and in numerous national news stories, including:
    1. There was the controller at Cleveland Center, who took off his shoes while watching a movie DVD on an overnight shift; he accidently had a hot mic when a shoe tipped onto a pedal-switch. A ham radio operator was doing his thing that night and heard a movie soundtrack on an ATC frequency, so he called FAA to report what appeared to be a dangerous situation. The FAA manager on duty  promised to investigate; while walking down to the control floor, he stopped at the technicians’ desk and mentioned the problem, and they noted ‘well, he’s probably watching a movie!’. Sure enough, he was. Made the national news but NOBODY was disciplined because it was a ‘prior working condition’ and had been condoned by supervisors for more than a decade. An aiREFORM FOIA request [F11-8134] eventually yielded hundreds of pages, including a confirmation that nobody was ever disciplined.
    2. There was the case at New York Center (Ronkonkoma, NY) where in 2010 a new supervisor, Evan Seeley, spoke up about common practices of sleeping on the job, early undocumented departures, and use of personal electronic devices while working. He was then subjected to vandalism and harassment, and found a management team that could do nothing to correct the situation. An OSC investigation confirmed Mr. Seeley’s claims.
    3. There were the many cases of sleeping air traffic controllers in 2011. Eventually, the Air Traffic COO, Hank Krakowski, was forced to resign.
    4. There was another news story that broke in 2012, when a controller Whistleblower at White Plains, NY [KHPN] leaked cellphone images and video exposing widespread napping and personal electronics in the control tower.
    5. And, there was the TV wired into a cabinet at Troutdale, OR (the photo above). This was the safety risk that launched my career as an ATC Whistleblower in 1989, and eventually led to a forced-voluntary retirement in 2009; see that Whistleblower case study here.

Debunking the Latest ATC-Privatization & NextGen Spin, this time by Economist.com

The members of the Av-Gov Complex just will not give up. And who is the Av-Gov Complex? The congressional committee leaders, the FAA officials, the lobbyists, the airlines, the unions, and the manufacturers. And, the media that is always happy to create ‘news stories’ that help to nudge the public toward demanding the latest wasteful schemes, NextGen and ATC privatization.

20160210.. Shuster looks & acts a lot like 'Peter Griffin' on Family Guy

The key Congressional proponent of AIRR is Bill Shuster. He chairs the Committee where he introduced AIRR; he also has both professional and personal relationships with top Airlines for America  officials, including both A4A CEO Nick Calio and  A4A VP of Government Affairs Shelley Rubino. a lobbyist known to be his girlfriend.

The AIRR proposal and NextGen funding are wrong and wasteful, yet the Av-Gov players continue to try and sell AIRR. They continue to wastefully spend aviation taxes, excess airline profits, and scarce Congressional time and energy.  As a result, Congress continues to fail to serve, and is not solving other more critical problems while wasting our money.

Just as the WikiLeaks emails showed how DNC ‘collaborated’ with the mainstream media to suppress the Bernie Sanders campaign and guarantee the election of the establishment’s choice (the amazingly flawed candidate, Hillary Clinton), so too the Av-Gov Complex players are getting help from our news sources. This time they have gone international, to the well-respected Economist magazine. Sadly, Economist has produced a story loaded with utterly false and misleading content. The article is below, with footnote rebuttals by aiREFORM.com. And, links to other Posts and materials are included at the bottom of this Post.

We need to be done with these two terrible ideas. NextGen and ATC Privatization are wasteful deadends that offer no substantial solutions and in fact create larger problems (especially the privatization plan). They are being offered solely to feather the nests of the Av-Gov Complex players, and to further diminish accountability by U.S. aviation regulators and the ATC system.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.


See also:

House Subcommittee on Aviation to Hold 6-15-2016 Hearing on ATC Issues

The House Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), will hold a hearing next week to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic controller hiring, staffing, and training plans and related issues. Here is a portion of the press release, including times and a list of the four witnesses:20160615scp.. 'FAA’s Air Traffic Controller Hiring, Staffing & Training to be Focus of Hearing' (portion of House Aviation Subcomm Press Release)


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under Chair Bill Shuster, has been pushing hard to privatize ATC. Although most controllers are opposed, the NATCA leadership has been offering testimony and news stories that are aimed at getting Congressional approval of ATC privatization. One of the witnesses is Paul Rinaldi, head of NATCA, who has been pressing an absurd point, claiming ATC is using archaic technologies including ‘paper strips’. Another witness, Randy Babbitt, was forced to resign from his position as FAA Administrator when he failed to report an alcohol/driving charge after a Christmas party in 2011; after his abrupt resignation, he was quickly hired by Southwest Airlines.


Below are scrollable PDF files listing the committee members. These may be helpful for identifying speakers during the proceedings. They also can be used to study how powerful Congressional committees are structured, and how severely gerrymandered their districts tend to be (to ensure their reelection).

Click on either of the two images below for a scrollable view; red shows republican members (R) PDF file, blue shows democrat members (D) PDF file.
Aviation Subcommittee members are marked with a blue box around their name. Click on the PDF links to download either list.


UPDATE, 6/15/2016 at 12:23 EDT: — The hearing ended at 12:19. Random notes are viewable on page 2 of this Post. Additional updates will follow.

Unspinning the Spin: A Liberal Rant by the Conservative Wall Street Journal

It is bad enough that the mainstream media tries every trick in the book to manipulate the outcome of our major elections … and, more often than not, they succeed. Their greed and power know no boundaries. No surprise, then, that the media applies these same propaganda tactics to prop up industries and bogus programs, such as NextGen and the Av-Gov Complex co-conspirators’ latest stab at privatizing ATC.

A new opinion piece was published yesterday by the Wall Street Journal editors. One reader’s comments summarize it very well: “…Although I think the FAA is completely inept and has bungled the NextGen rollout on all levels, some of the WSJ’s statements were very unfair (aka the old ‘World War II technology’ argument), and I fear the airlines being in charge even more.”

Another reader’s comments are drawn from his profession, as an airline pilot with extensive knowledge about labor and aviation politics:

“This article has absolutely nothing in it except for many errors and convenient omissions. For example, the comparison to the 1960’s is totally inaccurate because today all aircraft have the ability to fly direct, point-to-point with GPS and other similar navigation devices that all airliners have, even the “older” ones. The United States has complete, 100% radar coverage, so the statements referring to enroute delays are totally incorrect. Plus, it states that Schuster’s proposal “isn’t perfect” without pointing out what those imperfections are.

This is “airline deregulation” all over again, but this time targeting ATC. As far as FAA “oversight” goes, just look at the fines the airlines have accumulated for improper maintenance—and those are only the cases that were caught.

The true problem lies in the terminal areas of the busiest airports and neither NextGen nor any other fancy-sounding baloney has come even close to resolving that. All it has done is increase the noise levels for airport neighbors.”

Here’s a PDF of aiREFORM’s analysis of the WSJ piece, with numerous rebuttal notes added as footnotes:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Clearly, this will not be the last of an ongoing series of lame propaganda pieces. The collusion by members of the Av-Gov Complex – called a ‘collaboration’ – will not end until they pull off yet another change that serves industry profits at the expense of everyone else. A Congress weakened and compromised by too much focus on fundraising may eventually capitulate to this fraudulent campaign.

More NextGen Spin, this Time by a NYC-area Aviation Lobbyist

Another day, another article, and yet another provable example of an unaccountable authority offering more spin to sucker the larger public. This time, the spin is offered by the Global Gateway Alliance and published by Crain’s:

20150303.. 'Worst of the worst - City's airports are dead last in flight delays' (R.Goldensohn, CrainsNewYork.com, 1p)

(click on image to view original article at Crain’s New York Business)

Yes, the NYC area has aviation delays, but the cause is not at all what the lobbyist claims. There are two lies (highlighted above) that pop out from Mr. Sigmund’s statements to yet another happy-to-publish reporter:

  1. Sigmund says, “Passengers have better GPS on the phone in their pocket than most every pilot is using on the planes flying in and out of New York-New Jersey airports…”; and
  2. Sigmund says, “They are also delayed because they use an outdated World War II-era radar system, leading to a constant traffic jam in the sky.”

Bunk on both counts.

Nonetheless, these are the core lies of the current ‘collaboration’ by Av-Gov Complex players, seeking more money wasted on NextGen. These lies are propagated not just by Mr. Stephen Sigmund (the executive director of Global Gateway Alliance) and other pro-aviation lobbyists, but also by FAA officials, union officials (NATCA, in the case of air traffic control) and elected officials (congressional comments last month by John Mica and Bill Shuster are two recent examples).

The fact is, FAA has spent tens of billions upgrading the computers that allow us to brag about what is indisputably an incredibly safe ATC system. But people like Sigmund have no idea what they are saying, when they repeat the spin mantra. Those ‘World War II’ radars used vacuum tubes and showed only tentative blips; they were operated by controllers trying to interpret static-prone crackling transmissions. The pilots sending those often unreadable radio transmissions had no onboard technologies to see hazards such as other flights or weather or even granite. The lack of technology suggested when using the phrase ‘outdated World War II-era radar system’ was corrected decades ago. And, further, all of this technology has been upgraded every few years for the past six decades … easily more than a dozen iterations of technological improvement. Not just to faster integrated circuitry and color presentations and digital processing, but also to include a robust array of automation and system redundancies (one of many great examples: ‘conflict detection and alert’ that aids controllers when they get bored and lose focus).

Frankly, today’s flight management systems and radars are so far evolved that the role of the air traffic controller has been largely reduced to sitting and monitoring, all while collecting some of the highest pay rates in the federal government. Ten years ago, NATCA was vehemently opposed to NextGen, because they saw it as attacking job security. So, why does NATCA support NextGen now? Because FAA threw them a bone: “…collaborate with us (agreeing not to oppose NextGen) and we will help you become privatized, so the current controllers can rise above the congressionally-imposed pay limit…” (currently capped at $174,000 per year, earned by thousands of FAA managers as well as controllers at the busiest facilities).

Enough is enough. This pattern of self-serving spin by aviation interests (FAA, Congress, lobbyists and even NATCA) must end. We need effective air service IN BALANCE with local community quality-of-life. We can have the best for all; we just need FAA to start doing the job expected by Congress and the Public.


See also:
  • Keep noise down, efficiency up at Queens airports – a letter to editor in the Times Ledger, by Sharon Pinkerton at lobby group Airlines for America; same date, and same ‘collaborated’ talking points as stated by Mr. Sigmund. (3/3/2016)
  • Privatization Plan Holds Promise but Gives Big Carriers Too Much Clout – a fairly moderate opinion piece, but still using the same ‘WWII technology’ talking point. One line sets a high bar: “…if a spinoff could improve the system without costing passengers more or silencing the public’s voice in air traffic control, it would be worth doing.” Yes, that would be worth doing, but with the ongoing set of self-serving players, those costs are inevitable – indeed, demonstrable at places like Long Island and Phoenix.

Shuster/A4A’s AIRR Act is All but Dead

20160226scp.. AIRR all but dead (FAA Google Alerts)

(a sampling of headlines/articles generated today in a Google Alert on the word ‘FAA’)

The ridiculous scheme to privatize the U.S. ATC system appears to have died a quick death, but give Bill Shuster, Nick Calio, and Paul Rinaldi credit for putting a lot of effort into it.

The legislative proposal was introduced with great fanfare on February 3rd – even a slick video, loaded with spin (not sure who paid for that production!?!, though it looks like an A4A production). The rollout was after years of work and hundreds of meetings with so-called ‘stakeholders’, to craft the precise language that best served their interests. A fatal error was that the ‘stakeholders’ did not include airport neighbors, airline customers, environmental representatives or ANYONE in the general public. As has become routine in recent years, the ‘stakeholders’ set was limited to parties that stood to personally gain from scheme implementation: the airlines, the airline lobbyists, the air traffic controllers lobbyist (i.e., the union NATCA), and potential ATC contractors.

The need for Transformational Reform of FAA/ATC remains. Let’s hope our Congressional leaders get to work pass REAL legislation, including:

  1. restoration of local authority, including the power of local residents to vote democratically on airport activity limits, so as to ensure local citizens lead in the management of airport impacts, and to ensure the airport serves the local community first, industry last.
  2. a complete reconfiguration of the aviation fee & tax structure, so as to:
    • disincentivize overdevelopment of airline hubs (to encourage wider distribution of moderate traffic levels, and to avoid saturated repetitive flight patterns);
    • minimize fossil fuel consumption;
    • maximize percentage of passenger trips that proceed from origin to destination, without layovers.
    • maximize transparency by both airlines and FAA/ATC, to include required annual data reports, so citizens can see quantified progress toward efficiency and environment system goals.
  3. a thorough correction of aviation noise metrics and rules, to include:
    • remove authority from FAA and place it clearly within an EPA noise office;
    • upgrade the false ’65 dNL’ metric with a more realistic ’55 dNL’ metric, and also establish rules based on other non-dNL noise metrics.